Why We Watch: Is this a Super Bowl preview in Foxboro?
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
SEATTLE @ NEW ENGLAND, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 7-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 57
The story: Nobody in the AFC … no, the NFL … is better than New England, but in Seattle the Patriots draw an opponent they could wind up seeing in Super Bowl LI. Quarterback Russell Wilson is moving better than he has all season, and so is tight end tight end Jimmy Graham. Plus, safety Kam Chancellor is expected back, while New England wide receiver Chris Hogan is iffy with a sore back.
That’s the good news for Seattle.
The bad is that the Seahawks struggle to establish a rushing attack, the Legion of Boom sometimes looks more like the Legion of Gloom (opponents scored on 10 of their last 16 possessions), Michael Bennett remains sidelined and the game is in Foxboro – where New England lost just three times the past four years. What's more, Brady is 17-9 on Sunday Night, where the Patriots won seven of their last eight (the lone loss was in overtime last year to Denver.).
They'll make it 18 wins if Seattle can't pressure the pocket, force mistakes and figure out to cover Rob Gronkowski. Sound like a tall order? That’s because it is. Look at the spread, people.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Russell Wilson is 13-3-1 in prime-time games, best among active quarterbacks.
(Russell Wilson cover photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks; Tom Brady photo courtesy of Talk of Fame Network)
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
MINNESOTA @ WASHINGTON, 1 p.m. (EST)
The line: Redskins by 2-1/2
The weather: Sunny, high of 60
The story: Best part about this game? Halftime. That’s when the Redskins make former GM Bobby Beathard the 49th member of their Ring of Fame, and hallelujah. It's about time. Washington will have trouble puncturing Minnesota's defense for a fourth straight 400-yard game, but defense isn’t the issue with the Vikings. Offense is. Its MIA. They can't run, Sam Bradford is taking too many hits and they’ve scored 36 points the past three games – all losses. Washington must win to stay in the NFC East race. Minnesota must win to stay ahead in the NFC North. Finally, we have some meaningful games.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Vikings' Stefon Diggs averages 6.86 catches per game, third-best in club history through the first nine games of the season. Only Cris Carter (7.5) and Percy Harvin (6.89) averaged more.
MIAMI @ SAN DIEGO, 4:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chargers by 4
The weather: Sunny, high of 80
The story: The Dolphins won their last three. The Chargers won four of their last five (not including the Tuesday stadium vote). Something has to give, and, in all likelihood, that something is the Miami defense. San Diego's Philip Rivers is hot, hot, hot, and so is running back Melvin Gordon – the NFL leader touchdown leader with 11. If this comes down to a tennis match … and it could … you have to like the Bolts to hold serve. Reason: Rivers. I mean, whom do you trust – Rivers or Ryan Tannehill? Case closed.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: San Diego has at least one takeaway in every game this year. The Bolts and Eagles are the only teams to have at least one in every game.
DALLAS @ PITTSBURGH, 4:25 p.m. (EST)
The line: Steelers by 2-1/2
The weather: /Sunny, high of 57
The story: Tony Romo has been cleared to play, but he won't. Not here. Not now. Rookie Dak Prescott will and for a good reason: He's better. He won his last seven starts, just put up his best passer rating and has the Cowboys in first in the NFC East. The key here, though, isn’t Prescott. It's rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Steelers will force Prescott, not Elliott, to beat them because … well because, as was the case two years ago with DeMarco Murray, Elliott is the lynchpin to the Cowboys' success – from gaining tough yards to scoring TDs to protecting Prescott by making opponents respect … no, defend … the run. But what about Ben Roethlisberger? I don’t worry about him. He'll bounce back.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: Roethlisberger won his last six starts at home.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
CINCINNATI @ N.Y. GIANTS, 8:30 p.m. (EST)
The line: Bengals by 1
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 59
The story: The Giants lost to the Redskins … who tied the Bengals … who lost to the Cowboys … who lost to the Giants. Got that? This is why this one is tough to predict and figures to go down to the last possession. Neither team is very good, though the Giants are 5-3 and the Bengals 3-4-1. But Cincinnati is closer to first in its division (AFC North) than the Giants are in theirs (NFC East). Getting Tyler Eifert back is huge for the Bengals, who need someone other than A.J. Green as a threat. Getting to Andy Dalton is huge for the Giants, and this just in: Cincinnati allows more sacks than all but two teams. One problem: The Giants have only 11 sacks this season, tied for last in the league. So maybe this is simply Dalton vs. Manning, and what happens next depends on which Eli shows up.
Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Giants' defense leads the league in red-zone percentage at 39.3.
(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
OUR BEST BETS
CLARKJUDGE—Pittsburgh (– 2-1/2). They are home. They are desperate. They are going to win.
RON BORGES – Rams (-- 2-1/2). Two teams on a downward path, but Ill take the Rams and the points against a team whose high expectations have crashed and burned again.
RICK GOSSELIN -- Buccaneers (+2-1/2). Only two teams have not won at home this season -- Cleveland and Tampa Bay. The Browns may not win at home, but the Bucs have too much talent for the losing to continue.
ON THE WATCH LIST
DALLAS RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT. With 109 yards rushing Sunday, he joins Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson as the only NFL players with 1,000 yards rushing in the first nine games of their careers.
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. He, Jimmy Garropolo and Jacoby Brissett combined for 249 yards without an interception this season If Brady is clean again Sunday, New England would become only the second team in league history (Cleveland, 1960) to go through the first nine games without an interception. The Patriots' 249 attempts without an interception are the second most in league history. Only the 2008 Redskins (251) had more.
CINCINNATI WR A.J. GREEN. With 104 receiving yards Monday, he joins Randy Moss as the only receivers to produce 1,000 yards in six straight seasons.
SAN DIEGO QB PHILIP RIVERS. With two touchdown passes he becomes the ninth quarterback with 300 career touchdown passes.
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER. With 56 yards passing he becomes the 11th quarterback in NFL history with 45,000 yards passing. Additionally, he can become the fifth fastest quarterback to reach 45,000 yards – doing it in his 179th career game.
(A.J. Green photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMOUS
CAROLINA QB CAM NEWTON. In his last seven games at home he has 1,928 yards passing and 21 touchdowns (17 passing, four rushing).
HOUSTON COACH BILL O BRIEN. He's 4-0 vs. Jacksonville.
JACKSONVILLE LB PAUL POSLUSZNY. He aims for his sixth straight game vs. Houston with 10 or more tackles.
N.Y. JETS RB MATT FORTE. In the past three games vs. the Rams, he has 307 yards rushing and three TDs.
WASHINGTON RB MATT ASIATA. He ran for three TDs the last time Minnesota played Washington.
MIAMI RB JAY AJAYI. He aims for his fifth consecutive game with a touchdown.
ARIZONA RB DAVID JOHNSON. He has 100-plus yards in eight consecutive games and he's playing the NFL's worst rushing defense – one that has allowed seven straight 100-yard rushers.
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
The Arizona Cardinals have not allowed a passing touchdown in 15 consecutive quarters.
Three of Green Bay's four losses this season have been by a combined nine points.
Tennessee and Atlanta are tied for the most touchdowns the past three games with 12 each.
Eight of San Diego's nine games this season have been decided by eight or fewer points.
Melvin Gordon and Jeremy Hill lead the NFL with three runs of 40 yards or more apiece.
Atlanta has 30 or more points in six of nine starts, most in the NFL.
With three touchdown passes, the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger will extend his home streak to six consecutive games with three or more TD passes.
The Patriots have gone 15 straight seasons without being swept by a division opponent.
Philadelphia outscores opponents 109-46 in the second half, including 74-16 in the third quarter.
On passing attempts of 20 or more yards, the Minnesota defense holds opponents to 8-for-32 in completions for 228 yards, 0 TDs and 4 interceptions for a league-best passer rating of 17.2.